Monthly Archives: December 2009

Three 2009 Booklists

I compiled these lists after reading that semicolon is putting a new twist on the first Saturday Review of Books of 2010. Normally one links to a book review on one’s blog, or goes to the Review to read miscellaneous reviews. But this time you link to a list of books. I didn’t have one, but it sounded like a good idea. So I made three. None is in chronological order.

Making a list of books is way easier than writing a review, and I find the idea of doing something easy to start the new year quite appealing! I will get on with writing some reviews after I finish celebrating at least 12 Days of Christmas.

Books I completed reading in 2009:

  1. The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West
  2. Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful by Alan Paton
  3. Long Ago in France by M.F.K. Fisher
  4. How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
  5. The Folding Cliffs by W.S. Merwin
  6. Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
  7. M.F.K. Fisher and Me by Jeannette Ferrary
  8. The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
  9. The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  11. Bread and Water, Wine and Oil by Fr. Meletios Weber
  12. Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
  13. A Good and Faithful Servant (Saint Innocent) by the University of Alaska
  14. At Large and Small by Ann Fadiman
  15. Pig Tale by Verlyn Flieger
  16. Towards the Mountain by Alan Paton
  17. Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney by Paul Johnson
  18. The Inner Kingdom by Bp. Kallistos Ware
  19. The End of Suffering by Scott Cairns
  20. Living With the Laird by Belinda Rathbone
  21. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Books I got into but eventually abandoned:

  1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  2. Diary by Anaïs Nin
  3. Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home by Lynn Freed
  4. Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee
  5. Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee
  6. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
  7. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
  8. The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

Books I am still reading at the end of 2009 and plan to keep reading:

  1. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
  2. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky
  3. The Winter Pascha by Fr. Thomas Hopko
  4. For the Time Being by Annie Dillard
  5. Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ by St Maximus the Confessor
  7. Mary Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan
  8. Byzantium by John Julius Norwich
  9. Sister Age by M.F.K. Fisher
  10. The Hacienda by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
  11. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter

(The photo was taken in Chinatown earlier this month.)

    Near Nativity

    This fresco of the Nativity of Christ is on the wall at church, where I was blessed to attend Matins this morning. It was dark at the beginning of the service, with only a few candles burning. I held a candle to light The Six Psalms as I was chanting. As the service progressed, and light came through windows, this icon and others were revealed more clearly.

    Our Flower Lady had brought buckets of white, red, and pink poinsettias, and garlands of berried branches to adorn the church. The chandelier was strung with fir branches and ribbons. Altar cloths are bright satin red.

    I wanted to take pictures to capture the beauty, but then I realized that the impression is not only visual–the sensory input is part of it, through the sights I describe, the sounds of the hymns, the smells of incense and beeswax. But what really makes it worth passing on can’t be carried over to mine or anyone’s next moment, and that is the presence of God.

    Merry Christmas!

    Neapolitans–the cookie

    I’ve made these exotic Italian cookies the last two Christmases before this one. Not this year. But they are so pretty, I’m going to post the photos for your enjoyment–and the recipe, too. I got the recipe from a library book ages ago and don’t know where to give credit.

    I looked at scads of other Neapolitan recipes on the Internet–I forget why–and they were all dreadfully inferior. This one uses two different doughs, each with many tasty ingredients, whereas the others I saw used just one fairly simple dough that just had different food colorings added. This one also has no food coloring other than what is in the candied fruits.


    These Italian cookies present an interesting way of making icebox cookies. They are dramatic and unusual. You will make two entirely separate recipes for the dough—and it must chill overnight.


    3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
    ¼ tsp. salt
    1 tsp. baking soda
    ½ tsp. powdered cloves
    ½ tsp. cinnamon
    6 oz. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate morsels
    ½ pound (2 sticks) butter
    2 tsp. finely-ground coffee beans
    1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
    2 eggs
    5 oz. (1 cup) green pistachio nuts

    You will need an 11x5x3” loaf pan, or any other loaf pan with 8-9 cups capacity (or use two smaller pans of equal capacity—two medium loaf pans worked for me). To prepare the pan: Cut two strips of aluminum foil or two strips of wax paper (see Notes), one for the length and one for the width; they should be long enough so that they can be folded over the top of the pan when it is filled and should cover the whole surface. Place them in the pan and set aside.

    Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, cloves, and cinnamon and set aside. Grind the chocolate morsels in an electric blender (or they may be finely chopped, but they must be fine or it will be difficult to slice the cookies), and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter. Add the coffee and brown sugar and beat well. Add the eggs and beat to mix. Beat in the ground chocolate. On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until blended. Beat in the nuts.

    Transfer the dough to another bowl, unless you have another large bowl for the electric mixer. Set the dough aside at room temperature and prepare the following light dough.


    2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
    ¼ tsp. salt
    ¼ tsp. baking soda
    ¼ pound (1 stick) butter
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    ½ tsp. almond extract
    ½ cup granulated sugar
    2 tablespoons water
    1 egg
    3 ½ oz. (3/4 cup) currants, unchopped, or raisins, coarsely chopped
    Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
    6 candied red cherries or maraschino cherries, cut into quarters
    6 candied green cherries, cut into quarters

    Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. In a clean large bowl of the electric mixer, with clean beaters, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, the sugar and water, and beat well. Add the egg and beat to mix. On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until blended. Mix in the currants, lemon rind, and both kinds of cherries.

    To layer the doughs in the prepared pan: Use half (about 2 ¾ cups) of the dark dough and place it by spoonfuls over the bottom of the pan. Pack the dough firmly into the corners of the pan and spread it as level as possible. With another spoon spread all of the light dough in a layer over the dark dough—again, as level as possible. Form an even top layer with the remaining dark dough. Cover the top with the foil or wax paper and with your fingers press down firmly to make a smooth, compact loaf.

    Chill the dough overnight in its pan(s) in the freezer or refrigerator.

    To bake the cookies: Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 400°. The cookies may be baked on unbuttered cookie sheets or on sheets lined with foil–or parchment paper, as I used. Have the sheets ready.

    To remove the dough from the pan: Use a small, narrow metal spatula or table knife to release the dough from the corners of the pan. Fold back the foil or wax paper from the top of the loaf of dough, invert the pan onto a cutting board, and remove the pan and the foil or paper.

    With a long, heavy sharp knife cut the dough in half the long way. Wrap one half and return it to the freezer or refrigerator while working with the other half.

    With a very sharp knife cut the dough into slices about ¼” thick. Place the slices 1 to 1 ½ inches apart on the cookie sheets. (It’s best to use insulated sheets to prevent burning.) The second half of the dough may be sliced and baked now or it may be frozen for future use.

    Bake for about 10 minutes, reversing the cookie sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary during baking to insure even browning. Bake until the light dough is lightly colored, but watch them carefully—the dark dough has a tendency to burn.

    With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

    NOTES: The original recipe said that if the dough crumbles when you slice it, it hasn’t chilled enough. But as mine had been in the freezer overnight, I didn’t have this problem.

    If you use wax paper instead of foil, each piece should be folded so that it is two or three thicknesses. Wax paper is weaker than foil and a single layer would tear.

    I loved these cookies, but both times I made them the house was full of about ten other kinds of cookies with more gooey and rich ingredients, so these didn’t get the appreciation they deserve–that is, until I gave some to the choir director at church, who has Italian heritage, but no source for such cookies. He was so thrilled, I ended up giving him a few dozen.


    San Francisco Christmastime

    Yesterday friend K. and little T. and I went to The City for our second annual Christmas outing.

    First we stopped by Union Square to see the Christmas tree. My photo is from last year, but this year’s looked just the same. And this year the giant tree was an “85-foot Shasta White Fir from the Carlton Tree Farm in Mount Shasta.”

    The St. Francis Hotel features an elevator with windows looking out on the Square, so we rode up to the 31st floor and down several times.

    Then on to lunch at the famous John’s Grill. The restaurant has good food, and a replica of the maltese falcon from the movie by that name, hearkening to a scene from the movie shot in the restaurant. A couple of years ago the “original replica” was stolen, so this one is new copy.

    John’s Grill is a favorite spot for politicians to meet for lunch, and you can see framed photographs of various famous people all over the walls. Right above our table was a picture of our former-maybe-future governor with a past owner in 1984.

    We rode the cablecar  as we did last year. This time T. was happy to watch the guys adjust the cables at the end of the line and push the car into position for its return ascent.

    After a steep ride that had T. and me hanging on to our post and sliding down the seat nevertheless, we arrived on Nob Hill, where after the 1906 earthquake and fire, big hotels were built and named after the wealthy people whose mansions in that neighborhood had been destroyed. I enjoyed the grandeur of the Fairmont Hotel, its spaciousness and the marble columns.

    fairmont gingerbread G sniff 09

    Even the gingerbread house was on a large scale, and made with real gingerbread and gumdrops, half a ton of ingredients and days and days of work. I was impressed by the silky evenness of the ribbon candy, as I’ve recently been on the hunt for some for my father-in-law. What I found in the supermarket is downright ugly compared with this.

    It smelled rich and gingery, too!

    We were on our way to Grace Cathedral, also on Nob Hill.
    The original church was also destroyed in 1906,
    and the new cathedral not complete until the 1960’s.
    K.’s parents were married here.

    The crèche was my favorite part of our time in the cathedral.
    Chinatown brought us back to the hustle and bustle.

    This year’s oddity was these dragons made out of rope…

    …and in another window, this year’s winner of the Christmasy Shoes contest.

    Last year I snapped pigs resting in a Chinatown window. They were there again yesterday–or had they ever left? Those pigs prophesied of this morning, when I slept late, dreaming that I was writing a novel.

    A relaxed outing, a lazy morning…. it’s the last I’ll see of those for the next week. I’m going to enter the fray in earnest, now.